Despite the political leadership’s repeated promises to crack down on public servants doing business with the state, employees who hold strategic positions in national and provincial departments continue to hold positions as directors of private companies that are scoring big business with government.
The companies they are part of have generated about R60 million in contracts with government. And these are only the ones that have been detected.
This phenomenon, says the Public Service Commission (PSC), which is the organ of state that monitors and evaluates the functioning of the civil service, is hindering service delivery and fostering a culture of corruption.
According to the PSC’s 2020/21 report, many directors-general, deputy directors-general, heads of department, chief directors and directors are serving as directors in various companies in the country and also get paid for their duties in the private sector.
This is despite the Public Administration Management Act, enacted in 2014, explicitly prohibiting public servants from doing so.This latest report found that nearly 1 500 of these senior government employees failed to disclose their positions and generated more than R59 168 555 in undisclosed remunerative work done outside their daily duties.
The report was presented to the standing committee on oversight of the North West provincial legislature by the commission’s provincial commissioner, Moeketsi Solomon Leballo, this week.
The report doesn’t mention the names of the companies, departments and directors, but the shocking statistics indicate that this has resulted in at least 1 371 cases of conflict of interest involving government tenders worth billions of rands.
NO ACTION TAKEN
Despite the evidence at its disposal, government has failed to take disciplinary action against the transgressing public servants who did not disclose their positions in the private sector and were conducting business with several departments during previous financial cycles.
Briefing the commission in September, the department of public service and administration recommended that disciplinary action be taken and that criminal cases be laid against the public servants if it was proven to be true.At the time of this recommendation, the commission had discovered that there were up to 1 539 public service employees who were conducting business with the state in April 2020. Of those, 1 111 were from provincial departments and 428 from national departments.
But during the financial year of 2020/21, the PSC discovered that those public servants also accepted gifts and sponsorships worth more than R1.5 million, and failed to disclose this.
About 581 have failed to disclose their directorship positions in private companies doing business with government.
The report also indicates that 139 have been serving in various companies on different occasions and listed them as “repeat offenders”.
OBSTACLE TO FIGHTING TO CORRUPTION
City Press has learnt that this figure has contributed to a lack of service delivery and played a role in the high level of corruption in the country.
From the report’s total number of 1 491, national departments have the highest figure with 798, while provincial departments have 680. Other government components complete the list, with 13 people conducting business in various companies.
The commission says the conflicts of interest are part of the problem that government is facing in combatting corruption and expediting service delivery.
This is also partly the reason that some of the departments are performing poorly because accounting officers are conflicted. According to the report, most of them were not first-time offenders.
The commission also discovered that 296 directors- general, deputy directors-general, heads of department, chief directors and directors failed to disclose their immovable properties, which was also flagged, while 576 failed to disclose their vehicles.
In its endeavour to contribute towards strengthening accountability in the public service, the PSC issued a circular on the implementation of unlawful instructions to executive authorities and heads of national and provincial departments to stem the tide of irregular conduct in the public service.
“The purpose of the circular is to assist executive authorities and heads of department, including public servants, with their duty to act within the confines of the law and to report irregularities as well as any unlawful instruction encountered in the public service. It is hoped that the circular will be implemented accordingly across the public service,” read the report.
The commission indicated that it had issued more than 181 recommendations for leadership and management practices. It also referred more than 48 cases to the integrity and corruption portfolio, and also recommended that 42 cases needed monitoring and evaluation.
In its recommendations, the PSC warned departments to immediately reverse a number of irregular appointments and discipline officials who were responsible for the transgressions.
The commission recorded that the most common grievance was government’s lack of urgency in filling vacant positions, the inability to speedily deal with disciplinary matters, salary problems, unfair treatment and the undermining of authority.
The commission also instituted several investigations relating to appointment irregularities of service providers and procurement irregularities after complaints were lodged by members of the public. As part of the recommendations put forward after discovering irregularities, the commission referred some cases to law enforcement agencies for further investigation and prosecution, and also instructed accounting officers to reverse some appointments.
But not all the complaints lodged were investigated, as they did not meet certain criteria.
The report revealed that 872 cases were investigated, but whistleblowers’ identities were not protected enough, which was concerning as many had been threatened.
Of the 872 cases reported, 56% of the people who reported various crimes through the National Anti-Corruption Hotline had been identified, while 44% remained anonymous. The commission also discovered that many (490) of the cases that had been reported came from public entities, while national departments had 215 and the rest were in different provinces.
It was noted that even though the figures related to corruption were high, the number was the second-lowest since the inception of the hotline in 2004.
The commission also gave special attention to the impact of Covid-19 in the health sector and the department of education.
It noted that while the main focus was on the health sector, the education sector was forced to shut down entirely.
“With the periodical review of the lockdown restrictions, a decision was subsequently made to allow the department of basic education to introduce the phased reopening of schools for grades 7 and 12 with effect from June 1 2020. The schools were required to ensure adherence to the necessary health and safety measures as per the directions issued by the minister of basic education regarding and measures to address, prevent and combat the spread of Covid-19.
“It is within this context that the PSC conducted unannounced inspections of selected schools during the first two weeks of June 2020 to assess compliance with the minimum health, safety and social distancing requirements in mitigation of Covid-19,” read the report.
The commission also discovered that the supply of personal protective equipment was not sufficient and needed to be replenished as soon as possible.
“While the department of basic education ensured that necessary social distancing was observed by accommodating an average of 20 pupils in class for grades 7 and 12, this was largely due to the department using classes ordinarily reserved for other grades. Even more worrying was that, at the time of the inspections, no less than 1 672 schools were vandalised during the lockdown period, which compounded the shortage of classrooms. This was indicative of the historical infrastructure challenges affecting the pupil:teacher ratios in schools, which the department will have to address urgently as other grades prepared for the reintegration.”
It also recommended that the departments improve their monitoring systems on issues related to ethical behaviour, leave management, payment of suppliers and audit action plan monitoring to avoid irregularities.
Apart from nondisclosure, the PSC also received the second-highest number of grievances from public servants compared with the previous financial year of 2019/20. In 2020/21, the commission recorded 677 grievances, which was 130 fewer than those recorded in 2019/20.